Saturday, June 8, 2024

Alaska Cruise on the HAL Koningsdam - June 8, 2024

HAL Konsingdam Alaska Cruise Review - June 8, 2024

Just The Facts:

Ship:  Holland America Line’s Konsingdam, a Pinnacle Class class @100,000 gross tons and 2800+ capacity
Captain: Arno Jutten  -  Cruise Director: BettyAnn Chun
Ports: Vancouver, Canada - Juneau, AK - Skagway, AK - Glacier Bay (Sailing) - Ketchikan AK

This is my first cruise on the HAL Konsingdam, only my 4th Holland America cruise, but my 211th cruise overall.  I am sailing as a solo but with a group of classmates from DCHS  and cruise friends.  I haven’t sailed the Alaska ports recently so this will be fun and a bit different.
Travel Day One -- Thursday -- June 6th, 2024 -- Tampa Florida to Vancouver Canada
I left the Florida Villa at about 9:30 a.m. with a Lyft driver to the TPA Airport and my 1:00 pm flight. I flew on United Airlines through Denver in approximately two three-hour segments. Just a short layover in Denver so arrived in Vancouver at about 6:30 pm local Pacific time.  I took a regulated ($41Can w/Tip) Taxi downtown and my hotel, The Georgian Court Hotel.  I had a conflict as tonight is the final of the WCWS Softball Championships with my Sooners vs. the Texas Longhorns.  I was able to watch an inning from baggage claim at the airport, an inning on the half-hour Taxi Ride, and then the final two innings at the hotel.  The Oklahoma Sooners won their fourth consecutive National Championship. Amazing. The hotel is a premium hotel with all the amenities one would want so pricy even as Vancouver is already considered an expensive city for travel.  Very nice though.  After the Softball game, I walked a couple of blocks to a Vietnamese Restaurant, Pho Khanh Express, for a nice bowl of Pho…it was excellent.  I enjoyed my Chick-fil-A at TPA and my Smash Burger at DEN so a good day for easy and enjoyable food.  I retired after dinner and enjoyed watching Sooner softball highlights and team interviews before sleep.  Note: my classmates, from Oklahoma, was able to watch the game at the sports bar across from the hotel, they converted the locals too.
Travel Day Two -- Friday -- June 7th, 2024 -- Vancouver Canada
I failed to close the window shades and the sun comes up early here so I was awake by 4:45 am although that is 8:45 in Florida.  I walked down to Mcdonald's for a simple breakfast then met friends for our 10:00 am Vancouver City Highlights Tour.  Fortunately, one of the pickup points was my hotel.  After driving through the Downtown area our first stop was the Stanley Park Totem Poles.  It was a very nice area…we then drove the rest of the large urban park towards our next destination: Granville Island.  We had about an hour and a half to visit the famous Public Market and the many unique shops and venues.  They have over fifty various specialized food sellers so deciding is also fun.  I went with Kaisereck Delicatessen located in the Public Market.  I ordered the Schnitzel Plate: Schnitzel (breaded and freshly cooked), fresh Sauerkraut, Sautèed onions, and Potato salad.  I also had a large Oatmeal Raisin cookie from one of the bakeries.  All Excellent.  We then drove through Chinatown and the Gastown District with a brief stop at the famous vintage Steam Clock (photo).  Our final and feature stop was at the Vancouver Lookout atop a Vancouver high-rise with a 360* view of Vancouver, the Harbor, and the Mountains beyond,  We were blessed with a beautiful day for it too.  I enjoyed it very much.  It's a nice place to visit perhaps even better on your own as a good place to take a cool break when touring downtown.  We were a bit rushed as a group. Soon we were dropped back at our hotels and I took time to relax and begin this blog review.  I passed on a group dinner as they were going for Pho on my recommendation and close location.  Vancouver has 40% Asian population with a wide variety of Asian restaurants.  I had a great hot shower and went to bed to relax and work online.  They have fast WiFi and I have a nice room so I’ll enjoy it this evening.   It was a very beautiful and interesting day in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Day One -- Saturday --  June 8th, 2024 -- Embarkation Day - Vancouver Canada 
I woke early but had a very good and long night's sleep.  I enjoyed the room and WiFi until meeting others to share a Taxi ($20 for 3 +bags) to Canada Place at about 10:15 am.  Short trip and we checked our bags in the underground drop-off location.  Then up to U.S. Customs for face recognition.  The next step is security for carry-on bags and then to check in with Holland America.  Just a very short wait until boarding and I was on board at about 11:30 am.  Going early worked very well.  The cabins weren’t ready, but I went by just to get my key card…it wasn’t out as yet so I sat on my aft-facing balcony looking at a perfect view of downtown Vancouver (photo).  The cabin steward came by and finished my cabin so I got my sail card and went up to Lido aft pool for a cocktail. Just after noonish, they announced that cabins were ready so that cleared out the Lido Buffet…I then went there to eat.  I had two Tacos from the Carving Station (fresh sliced pork) with fixings.  Then I tried the Cannelloni with Bolognese Sauce.  All good.  I found my group by the main pool starboard side with a great view and we visited.  Then a rare thing happened:  If you sailed from here you recall that you can watch the Float Planes take off and land between Canada Place (our location) and Stanley Park.  Unfortunately, a boater was racing and cut across the flight path and was hit by the plane.  The boater was a fatality and the plane flipped.  Authorities were there quickly. They salvaged the plane (96% underwater) dragging it ashore.  At 2:00 pm the Muster Stations open…an easy card scan then watch the video on cabin TV.  Easy Peasy.  I do have a drink package for this cruise so I had a few Daiquiris this afternoon.  Nice.  After unpacking I met friends at the Ocean Bar for a few Cosmopolitans before our 7:30 dinner in the Main Dining Room (MDR).  Tonight's dinner was very good,  I ordered the Sea Food appetizer, the Pork Tornadoes with Marion Berry (local) jelly, and a nice whipped fruit dessert.  Some went to the 50’s Show, but I retired to the cabin.  I set up the Music choices on the TV and updated this review before sleep.  It was a great embark day for the Konsingdam.

Day Two -- Sunday --  June 9th, 2024 -- Inside Passage to Alaska 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well although seas are rolling this morning.  I woke up early and updated this blog.  They have a Seaday Brunch in the MDR opening at 9:00 am and I went shortly afterward.  I ordered a unique Alaskan Smoothie (apples, beets, pumpkin seeds), Hot Milk, Eggs Benedict with sides of Bacon & Hash Browns, and a Bloody Mary.  It was very good and nice English guests to visit with.  I began my walkabout this morning starting with Deck 3 the Promenade deck from aft to forward, then went up to Deck 12 and the Crows Nest.  I enjoyed a Coca-Cola then friends came by so tried a Leffe Belgian Beer.  I then finished my walkabout on Deck 2 forward to aft.  The seas continue to be rolling more than I have ever experienced on the Inside Passage.  I then had a Hamburger and Fries from Dive-In up on Lido Deck.  You have a choice of several burgers or hot dog items leave an order then are buzzed when it is ready.  My burger was very good.  It's nice on the inner deck (65°) by the pool, but the outer decks are breezy and cool (55°). I then had cabin time before going to the Ocean Bar at about 3:00 pm and sat with several Classmates.  Tonight is Captain's Night although most do not dress formally as is the cruising practice of late.  I dressed in a wrinkled dress shirt, I failed to hang it as I had so many shirts for 21 days.  Dinner tonight was very good, I ordered: Escargot Bourguignon, Orange Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail (plated with Melon), the Pinnacle Grill 17 oz Ribeye Steak ($20), and the Black Forest Cake for dessert. It was all excellent (photo...note that it is still daylight @ 9:30 pm).  Most were attending the Comedy Show this evening, but I retired to the cabin early as I had an early excursion.  It was a fun sea day on the Konsingdam.
Day Three -- Monday — June 10th, 2024 — Icy Point Strait / Tracy Arm Fjord / Juneau
Smoother seas overnight and I slept well.  We changed our clocks/time back one hour to Alaska time overnight.  It was daylight at 4:30 am and the weather looked better than the forecast…important as I have an excursion on the water this morning. I had a quick early breakfast in the Lido Market, the bacon was nice.  My excursion, Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer, met at about 8:30 am in the theater and at about 9:00 we were loaded onto a large Catamaran with two decks and a third observation deck.  I got a seat on the first forward row lower level and end so a view forward and starboard side.  First time to be loaded ship to ship on the sea.  Once we were offloaded the Konsingdam continued to Juneau. Our boat entered Icy Point Strait and then into the Tracy Arm Fjord.  We stopped along the way for wildlife seeing a few Bears, and the large natural Waterfall.  There were a lot of small waterfalls for snow runoff as well.  There was a lot of floating ice two almost large enough to be called icebergs.  We passed the Carnival Miracle plodding along in the Fyord.  At about an hour in we reached the Sawyer Glacier.  It was amazing and the Captain got us in very close.  It was that special blue color as well (photo).  We spent some time here before returning down the Fjord to our original site at Icy Point by noon, but we now had to do the three-hour journey to Juneau.  We did pass some Dolphins along the way and the time passed well.  Five cruise ships in Juneau today. We docked alongside the ship and in the cabin just after 3:00 pm.  I went up to the Lido for a hot lunch: Pasta with Bolognese, a Brisket Burrito, and a nice Green Salad.  I then went off the ship and into Juneau spending most of my time in the Red Dog Saloon.  The Beers were good and the show was very entertaining.  Yes of course I had a Duck Fart as well.  I returned to the ship and no MDR for me tonight. I went up to the Sea View Bar for Coca-Colas for the cabin and ended up swapping stories with the Bartender (it was not busy) then ended up drinking a few Captain Morgans.  I soon retired much too tired to blog so a hot shower and bed was very nice.  It was a great excursion day. 

Day Four -- Tuesday --  June 11, 2024 -- Skagway Alaska 
Smooth seas overnight and I had my best sleep of the trip. I still woke early, but I went to bed early.  At about 8:00 am I went to the MDR for Breakfast, I ordered the Eggs Benedict with Crab & Asparagus Tips, it would have been great but the English Muffin was off. The Bacon, Fruit Plate, Hot Milk, and Danish were good.  I visited with new and old friends on the way out of the MDR.  Most of my group is off for the Railway on several types of rail excursions.  I’ve done it a few times so I updated this blog in the morning and will go out to walk about and enjoy the better-than-forecast weather.  I think my friends will have a great day going up the mountain by rail.  At about 11:00 am I took a shuttle into town it is the most people I have ever seen in Skagway.  There are four ships fair-sized ships docked today: HAL Koningsdam, Celebrity Edge, Crown Princess, and Discovery Princess.  I had my obligatory beer at the Red Onion Saloon and walked around a bit, just too many people so I shuttled back at about 1:00 pm.  I had a nice lunch from Lido Market and sat outside enjoying the mountain views.  Then took time on my Balcony with the same view. At about 6:00 pm I met the group for cocktails at the Ocean Bar.  Yes, they all enjoyed their railroading adventure today.  I made reservations at Canaletto the premium Italian Restaurant on Deck 9 for 7:30 pm and had a nice window table.  I enjoyed a Cocktail and the Bread with a variety of Tapenade and Oil & Vinegar as we began sailing away from Skagway. I ordered the Burrata served with nice Tomatoes and dressing, the featured Seared Scallops, the Italian Sausage Paccheri, and the Baked Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake for dessert.  It was all excellent, especially the Scallops and I was very satisfied with the meal and service.  After dinner, I went out on the outer deck aft to enjoy the wonderful views as we sailed away.  The mountains are brilliant with the snow cover at the tops and majestic rising from the sea.  My cabin was turned down, but I opened up the curtains to continue to enjoy the scenery.  The aft view was spectacular this evening.  Another great day in Alaska.
Day Five -- Wednesday --  June 12th, 2024 — Sailing Glacier Bay Alaska 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well.  We entered Glacier Bay National Park and picked up the Park Rangers and Conservationists at about 6:30 am.  I went to the MDR for a nice Country Breakfast of my design: Three Eggs over easy, Bacon, Sausage, Hash Browns & Toast.  Also Hot Milk, Tomato Juice, and a Danish. It was good and we were reaching some of the better viewing areas of Glacier Bay.  By the time I returned to the cabin they had begun their 360° turns… which makes the aft-facing cabins with wonderful views.  Also avoids the Crows Nest crowd and a better open-air experience. At about 11:15 we reached the Margerie Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier at the upper end of the bay just below the Canadian border.  The Margerie Glacier is spectacular as you can see most of it from the water's edge up the mountain.  Certainly the highlight of Glacier Bay.  I sat with friends in the Lido Market and had a few cookies for lunch.   then took some Cokes back to the cabin.  Sailing south I’m getting the full view of Glacier Bay from the aft-facing balcony and it is magnificent.  I’m glad I booked this location.  At about 3:00 pm I went to Dive-In for a Hamburger and ordered the same as Sunday but with two fries, they are so good, to me they taste like cactus fries. We dropped off the Park Rangers at about 3:30 so we began heading south towards Ketchikan and eventually Vancouver.  A short walkabout the ship before dinner @ 7:30 pm. Tonight was the second Gala night so a fair menu.  I ordered the Escargot Bourguignon, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, the Beef Tenderloin Oscar entree, and a Black Forest Sundae for dessert.  It was very good.  I did go to B.B.Kings nightclub, that's one of the favorite evening spots for the group.  The comedian has been getting positive comments as well.  It was a brilliant day cruising in Glacier Bay.  My first time as previous attempts were canceled by poor very pleased.

Day Six -- Thursday --  June 13th, 2024 -- Ketchikan, Alaska

Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke early and updated this blog then went to breakfast in the MDR just after they opened at 7:30 am.  I ordered Hot Milk, Mixed Berries, Danish, three Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, and Hash Browns.  Nice people at an aft-sharing table, actually saw a Sea Lion too. There are six cruise ships in Ketchikan today so we have the short straw and will have to tender, fortunately, I have an excursion so we’ll have an early tender.  My meeting time is 11:15 am and the excursion is  Wilderness Cruise and Silverking Lodge Seafood Feast.  My tender left at about 12:05 and boarded a bus to take us to the north part of the island then loaded a boat for Silverking Lodge.  On the way was saw a pair of Eagles that dove for fish next to our boat,  very impressive (photo).  Once docked at the lodge we took a walk into the Rainforest to one of the largest Red Cedar trees in North America…it too was impressive.  We then had a nice seafood boil at a pavilion.  Crab Legs, Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Red & White potatoes, Corn on the Cob, Sausage, Garlic, and probably more in the Pot dumped on our table for eight.  We also had drawn butter and a bottle of water.  It was fun and good food.  We then returned by the same route to Ketchikan.  I walked around town for a while then ran into friends before returning to the Shuttle location.  I was told by a guide to try the local Huckleberry Fudge if possible and found a piece of Huckleberry/Vanilla…wonderful.  We were back on the ship at about 6:00 pm.  I relaxed for a bit then went upstairs to the Lido for a light dinner: Fried Chicken, Red Fish, Mashed Potatoes, and Vegetables.  I watched us sail out of Ketchikan and I could easily see the interesting Sea Captain's houses on the hills above the town and waterfront.  It doesn’t get dark here until after 10:00 pm.  I watched some news on TV for the first time in a week, then retired.  It was an interesting day in Alaska.
Day Seven -- Friday --  June 14, 2023 -- Sailing the Inside Passage
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We moved our clocks forward one hour to Vancouver time during the night.  I went up to the Lido Market and it was not busy so I had a nice omelet from the Omelet Station and Bacon, Hash Browns, Fruit, and Danish…very good.  Visited with friends before returning to the cabin to do some business online as we are four hours off EST.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Sacred Land of the Incas - Peru May 6-14, 2024

                                            Sacred Land of the Incas - Peru  May 6-14, 2024

I’m traveling to Peru for a land based Travel Adventure.  I’m traveling with the Dear Wife with the help of tour operator: Exoticca.  
May 6, 2024,   Monday-Day 1 / Travel Day

We began this Adventure with an afternoon flight on COPA Air from Tampa to Panama City Panama. Then an evening flight from PTY direct to Lima, the capital of Peru with a scheduled arrival at about 1:05 am early Tuesday. On the second late flight, we were upgraded (by bid) to Business Class. Nice. We were among the first off the plane and eventually (only 10 minutes) found our pick-up guide, Roberto. We checked into our hotel Ibis Lima Reducto Miraflores at just after 2:00 am. We were soon in our room on the 16th floor and sound asleepA very interesting travel day…tiring, but not stressful at all.

May 7, 2024  / Tuesday-Day 2  /  Lima
This is a scheduled travel/free-day in Lima but we arrived early so a long open day for us.  We woke at about 9:00 am and made it to Breakfast (included) before they closed at 10:00 am.  It was a nice buffet with Peruvian specialties.  Afterward we settled in and established WiFi and noticed the very urban sounds…something we are not used to hearing.  The room is small but adequate.  The location as we learned today is very good.  We started on a walkabout in the affluent  Miraflores area.  A lot of Art Deco period homes that gave way to modern apartments and businesses, but a very clean and safe area of Lima.  We went to Kennedy Park and adjacent areas, then walked to the seaside Malecon, urban Parks, and the old lighthouse and it was a bit foggy. You could watch the surfers though.  On the walk back to the hotel we stopped in La Cervecería with a great selections of local draft beers.  I found a nice Peruvian Pilsner.  They happened to be serving (we saw an order) a special of the day, Pasta with Pesto, the DWs favorite, so decided to eat there.  I ordered a Hamburger served with local cheese and Bacon (English style) that was excellent.  Stopped for beers and ended up with a great meal. We visited some great places along the way perhaps our favorite because of the Churros was Manolo Peru.  It was about 3:00 pm when we returned for rest and nap at the hotel. When we wok from our nap we realized that we were in for the day, but I had time to update this blog and get read some history of this area.  One of the parks we visited was Parco de 7 June so I looked up the date and discovered the Pacific War between Peru an Chile.  This area was the site of a battle and everything from the 19th century, other than the local Church was destroyed in 1881.   Explains the architecture of the areas redevelopment.  The 100,000 residents of the Miraflores area are the wealthiest in Peru.  Also why there are so many unique Shops, Art Centers, and Restaurants in the area.
May 8, 2024 / Wednesday-Day 3  /  Lima
We woke and went to breakfast at about 7:00 am as we met the Exottica Representative at 8:00 am. Since we are doing the additional Museo Larco option our Lima City Tour is in the afternoon…so we have a free morning. We did the 15-minute walk back to Manolo for Churros. We ordered to plate of 6 regular Churros with the Hot Chocolate dipping sauce and a vanilla and chocolate flavored. I also had a very good Leche Caliente…very hot and perfect with churros. We then went to visit the very large department store: Falabella Miraflores as it opened at 11:00 am.  All the employees line the entrance and clap and sing as the first guests arrive.  That was an unexpected and very nice greeting. After our return, we had an hour's rest. We met our 2:00 pm Lima tour and were taken to the old town of Lima passing interesting sites including Public Parks and the Indian Markets along the way.  We were dropped at Plaza Bolivar across from the Peruvian Congress Building and the Imposing Statue of Simon Boliver. We then walked several blocks on a pedestrian avenue with stores in historical buildings to the Lima main square: Plaza Mayor. This square is surrounded by the imposing Cathedral and Governed Palaces…very impressive. We then walked to the Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo and toured the Museum, Courtyards, and Catacombs. We walked through Alameda Chabuca Granda and then reboarded our bus to the Museo Larco. This private museum is located in a very large Colonial Period House built on top of an old ruin. It is beautifully landscaped and all the rooms are modernized for the display of cultural artifacts from pre-Inca sites in Peru.  Very professional displays that tell the stories of these ancient peoples. I was very impressed (photo). It was 6:45 pm by the time we were dropped at our hotel so we went across the road and ate at Pastelería San Antonio (Pizza, Tamale, & Empanada) before retiring. It was a very busy day in Lima.
May 9, 2024 / Thursday-Day 4  /  Lima - Cuzco - Sacred Valley  
We woke early to check out, eat breakfast, and meet our airport bus to the Lima airport
. Boarding for our flight was a mess as locals (Indians) ignored people in a line. Our domestic carrier was Sky Air with the flight from Lima to Cusco leaving @ 12:15 and arriving before 2:00 pm.  There we were transported by bus on a two-hour drive to Urubamba through the Andes Highlands. The scenery was very nice but the conditions of the road and villages we passed were pitiful. Object rural poverty.  I think most on the bus were wondering what we had gotten ourselves into when we arrived, but just a short drive off the highway we found the mountain oasis of Hotel Agustos Urubamba.  A beautiful hotel on beautiful grounds surrounded by colorful landscaping and in the distance: mountains. Our very large clean and neat room had two queen beds.  Nice amenities including good WiFi too. At about 5:00ish we went to the very nice dining room with a great view for dinner. I had a Sirloin Steak, but the highlight was a large Green Salad as a starter. We retired after a walk in the garden. It was an effort to get here but well worth it in the end.
May 10, 2024  /  Friday-Day 5  /  Sacred Vally - Machu Picchu  
We slept very well
, the absolute quiet is so great compared to the urban sounds of Lima. Today is the big day and we started with an excellent Breakfast Buffet with small Pancakes, Omelette style Eggs, Potatoes & Onions, Fruit, Leche Caliente, and more. We have 2:00 pm entry tickets to Machu Picchu so we met our bus @ 9:45 am to take us to the Ollantaytambo Train Station. We then boarded the train to Machu Picchu passing beautiful views on the way to Machu Picchu station at Aguas Calientes. From there we boarded special buses that took us on the winding trail up to the entry arriving at about 2:00 pm. Our group of 31 was divided into three groups of 10 and assigned a local guide. Unlike in the past guests don’t explore on their own but take a guided tour, for the best IMHO as he explains what we are seeing. The tails and walkways are very difficult as UNESCO doesn’t allow changes or improvements. The first part is the most difficult as it’s all uphill.  I was the oldest, by far, but the guide paused many times to explain things so the pace was slow.  We were rewarded by the beautiful views (photo) once in that agricultural area of the MP. Fortunately, everything was downhill from thereWe we shown the various buildings and structures and their use in the within 15th century Inka community.  It is amazing and worthy of the designation in the 7 Wonders of the World. It was about 5:30 pm when we ended the tour. Then we repeat the entire process for the return. We did have an hour in Aguas Calientes before the train so we ate in a nice restaurant overlooking the Urubamba River. It was after 10:00 pm when we arrived back at the Hotel Agustos Urubamba. We were soon asleep after a very busy Machu Picchu day.
May 11, 2024,   Saturday-Day 6  / Sacred Valley - Cuzco   
We originally had an optional excursion today with a 7:00 am departure but changed it back to the regular tour schedule as we needed the rest
. Unfortunately, my phone woke me just after 6:00 am but that allowed me to stay in bed and have time to update this blog and still not have to get about early. I do admit that yesterday was very tiring for this old-timer. We enjoyed a very nice Breakfast Buffet in the Restaurant then packed to meet our Bus to Cusco at 11:00 am. We left our bags, as did the larger group, early this morning to be delivered by 2:00 pm. We arrived at the Agustos Cuzco Hotel just after noon and went to our assigned rooms. It’s an urban hotel not really to our liking…two-star at best. At 1:00 we took a taxi @ $S-10 ($2.50) on a 10-minute ride to the Plaza de Armas.  This is the largest plaza in Cusco anchored by the historic Cathedral of Cusco, the current Catholic Basilica, Restaurants, and shops in Colonial buildings (photo). It is a large beautiful and impressive Central Square, We toured the impressive Catedral del Cuzco and then decided to eat at Tunupa across the square. We had a table on the balcony overlooking the entire Plaza and mountains beyond. It was great to watch all the activities. I also had my first Pisco Sour, the cocktail of Peru. DW had a Vegetarian Salad and I had a nice Hamburger, they were good. Afterward, while DW shopped I had a nice pedicure and foot and leg massage…it was needed from yesterday's strenuous climb at Machu Picchu. We then shopped around the Plaza in various shops. We took a taxi back to the hotel and the group from the excursion was now there, that’s when we discovered that our bags from the previous hotel had not arrived.  Then several guests and myself with Airtags discovered that they were still in Urubamba.  Very poor WiFi in the hotel so no Big 12 Championship game to view tonight although I could follow by StatChat. DW waited in the Lobby/Bar with new friends until our luggage arrived at about 9:00 pm. A good day in Cusco.
May 12, 2024 / Sunday-Day 7 / Cuzco
I slept better than I thought I would with no air conditioning, then went down to a light breakfast at about 8:15 am. At about 9:30 we took a taxi into the old town. We discovered new interesting Plazas, new Churches & Convents, and more. At about 11:00 am we stopped at El Cuadro Restaurant located on Plaza Regocijo with a view of the fountain. We ordered guacamole and our waiter Alex was able to have Pico de Gallo prepared fresh for us. It was great and I also had my first Inka Kola. It was interesting to see the local Mothers walking in the Plazas today too, many in traditional Peruvian dress. We then walked across the Plaza de Armas to visit areas on the other side. We saw the original 15th-century Inca Temple walls that now supported the Basilica and Spanish Colonial structures. We stopped at Paddy’s, the world's highest genuine Irish Pub @ 11,500 feet. It was interesting and the WiFi was super fast.  Soon afterward we returned to the hotel for some rest and I updated this blog. At about 7:00 pm eleven of our group met and we went to Tunupa the very nice restaurant on the Plaza de Armas.  This was a Dinner and Folkloric Show. We had a choice of three different set menus, DW had a Vegetarian meal including excellent Pasta with Vegetables and I had the Lama Pepper Steak entree with Potatoes, a Salad starter, and Coconut Cake for dessert. The entertainment was a three-piece Peruvian Musical Group and four dancers (photo) . It was a nice 40+ minute presentation and I enjoyed it very much. We returned at about 10:30 pm and then retired to the room for needed sleep.

May 13, 2024 / Monday-Day 8 / Cuzco - Lima 
I slept fair, although cool outside I was too warm, perhaps the altitude or late meal. I went down for breakfast at about 7:15 am then packed and went to the lobby for 9:15 am airport pick-up.  At about 10:00 we discovered that our flight had been canceled by SKyAir.  After an hour of stress most were rebooked for an 8:20 flight, but we would have to be picked up at 3:15. We checked our bags and took a taxi back to Plaza de Armas. We stopped for pasties and a Coca-Cola at a coffee shop, then visited the Museo Machu Picchu Concha which was closed yesterday. We then did some shopping and ate again at El Cuadro Restaurant on Plaza Regocijo.  At about 2:15 pm we then returned to the hotel for our new shuttle. We were at the airport at about 4:00 and finally were checked in for our flight. Only a three-hour wait until boarding. I purchased some WiFi and posted three days on this blog. We were finally on our way and scored Exit Row seats. We landed in Lima at about 10:30 pm or the original time that were to be picked up. Going from Arrivals to Departures was easy as the airport is on one level. We checked in with Copa Airlines, checked our bags to Tampa, and went through security. We stopped for some KFC then we were at our departure gate at about 12:15 a.m
May 14, 2024, Tuesday-Day 9  /  Lima / Night on Board 
The time passed well we still had our WiFi from our previous visit here. At about 1:30 am they began early boarding for our flight to Panama. We are fortunate to have Business Class for both flightsWe landed in Panama at about 6:00 am and we had a three-hour layover but we spent that time in the Copa Club.  We recharged our iPhones, had a light breakfast, and a Coke. At about 9:00 we were off on the final flight to Tampa arriving at 1:00 pm. We were among the first off the plane, through Immigration, and to receive luggage, We had a Lyft ride within minutes and HOME at about 3:00 pm
 This adventure (and it is that) to Machu Picchu is an experience of a lifetime.  
Not an easy place to visit, but well worth it in the end.

Exottica, the Tour Operator
I was not as pleased with Exottica on this journey as in the past.  Most of the problems were actually due to their local agent Condor Travel. Exottica did what they usually do well: Tranfers, Air travel, Trains, etc. Not as pleased with accommodations.

Ibis Lima Reducto - Miraflores - 3.2***Stars
Staff-4. Location-3. Room-3. Food-3.  WiFi-3

Agustos Urubamba - Urubamba - 4.3****Stars
Staff-5. Location-4. Room-5. Food-5. WiFi-4

Agustos Cusco Hotel - Cusco - 2**Stars
Staff-4. Location-1. Room-1. Food-3. WiFi-1

Personal Observations about Peru

Peruvian people are very friendly and accommodating to visitors.

Be careful about adding ice cubes to carbonated beverages when over 11,500 elevations.

Altitude sickness is real.

The food is good.

The beer is very good.

The USD $ goes a long way ... 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Grandeur of the Seas - April 24, 2024

                                               Grandeur of the Seas Cruise Review 

Just the Facts:
Ship:  Grandeur of the Seas,  a Vision-class ship @ 73,000 GT and the oldest in the Royal Caribbean fleet launched in 1995
Ports: Tampa, FL - Grand Cayman Island - Cozumel, Mexico -- Tampa, FL

This is a quick five-day cruise from Tampa and I am sailing as a solo guest. This is the Granduer's first sailing since a recent dry dock update. This is my first cruise on the Grandeur of the Seas, my 36th Royal Caribbean cruise, and my 210th total cruise overall.  Just a quick get-a-way cruise on a unique ship.

Day One -- Wednesday --  April 24th, 2024 -- Port of Tampa  — Embarkation 
I was up early and finished packing by 9:00 am but didn’t leave the Villa until 11:00 am for the short drive to Tampa. I was soon parked on level 5 of the Channel Side Parking facility and walked across the street to the terminal (photo). I was behind the early initial early rush at the cruise terminal so very easy.  It was very well organized individuals on the floor checking guests with their mobile iPads (Same as the new RCL facility in Galveston. It was a very smooth process…I rolled on my bag as usual and was in my Cabin on deck 8 by 12:15 pm.  Amazing embarkation. I went one deck up to the Lido deck and the Windjammer before it got too busy. I had a nice Salad, Pork Cutlets, and Mashed Potatoes…very nice. I then went down to Deck 5 and checked into Muster Station number 6. Easy peasy.  I returned to the cabin to unpack, hang clothes, and set up the WiFi. It’s large for an interior cabin with ample storage and even a small couch.  This is the first sailing after dry dock so we are the first guests for a while and everything is fresh and clean.  Even the hangers in the closet were properly separated so the details were done well.  The internet worked well from my cabin location too (once I adjusted my settings).  I went up to the Solarium to make a telephone call home and had a nice Roast Beef sandwich from the late afternoon snack area. It was small but good with fresh roll and horseradish. We sailed away at about 4:10 pm and one forgets how big Tampa Bay actually is … it was hours before we sailed under the bridge. I went to the Schooner Bar for two very nice Cosmopolitan cocktails prepared by Wilson from Goa. Then I visited the Crown Lounge located in the South Pacific Lounge on deck 6 aft…they have a wonderful view of the aft wake. The Hors d’oeuvres were very nice, I sampled the Chicken tenders and enjoyed the view until dinner. I have late seating in the Great Gatsby Dining room (MDR) at Table 328 an 8-top. There were five solo guests this evening. The wait service was excellent and I ordered: the Tomato Soup, the Escargot, the Pasta Pomodoro entree, and a Key Lime Pie for dessert. All were good as were the table guests. I then retired to the cabin as it was a long, busy, and easy embarkation day.
Day One -- Thursday --  April 25th, 2024 -- Day at Sea
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. I did wake in the early morning hours as is usual for me. We set our time back one hour to CST in anticipation of our port times. I updated the blog and then went to breakfast in the MDR at about 9:00 am. I was seated at an 8-top table with nice guests. I ordered Danish, fruit Plate, Eggs Benedict with sides of Hash Brown potatoes and nice crispy Bacon. I also had a Bloody Mary and we had a good breakfast and visit. I returned to the cabin and did some work online before going to the Centrum area to listen to music while my cabin was being cleaned.  The multi-deck Centrum is common on many new ships so the design of the Grandeur was somewhat ahead of its time.  After I returned to the cabin I had a delivery of both a Fruit Basket and a nice decorative sliced fresh fruit plate.  Very unusual that quite by chance it was my own MDR waiter Menandro who delivered it.  At about 3;15 pm I went up to the Park Cafe on Lido for another small Roast Beef sandwich and sat and enjoyed the ocean views. I was able to stream and watch today's live Texas Rangers baseball day game this afternoon too. It was a very restful day. I went to the Schooner Bar for cocktail hour then to the Crown Lounge to enjoy the sunset (photo) and additional cocktails. Not busy at the CL and I did sample the Fried Shrimp and the service was very good. Not crowded at the Great Gatsby as they opened a bit early and most guests knew their table assignments. There were four of us for dinner tonight and tonight's theme was classical French food. I ordered:  Escargots a la Bourguignon, Iceberg Wedge Salad, Beef Bourguignon, and Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Warm Apple Cobbler for dessert. It was good as was the service. There was a Broadway Production show tonight in the Theater although I retired after dinner. Early meet-up for the excursion tomorrow. It was a very nice sea day on the Grandeur of the Seas.

Day Four -- Saturday --  April 26th, 2024 -- Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Smooth seas overnight and I again slept very well. I was up early as I had an early meeting time for my excursion. At about 7:00 am I was at the Windjammer for breakfast: Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Corned Beef Hash…it was good. I met my excursion, Pedro St. James Great House, Rum Tasting, and Cayman Crystal Caves at about 8:00 am in the Palladium Theater. We had a group of 21 in a small bus and as the only solo, I had the shotgun seat. The Government has encouraged more tourism on the eastern side of the island and these are two venues recently added for tourism. We drove about 30 minutes to the east end of the island and the recently opened Cayman Crystal Caves.  It was an extensive cave system, we visited two, the Roots cave and the larger Lake cave (photo). The paths and lighting in the caves were well done and it was uniquely interesting. It took them six years to clear the paths and prepare for guests and they did an excellent job in doing so. The next stop was at Pedro St. James the oldest established great house on the island. The Cayman government recently restored the property as a National Historical Site and opened it for tourism.  They have an excellent 3D movie presentation of the history of the house before you do the tour of the house itself.  It’s a three-story house built with thick walls and a 4x4 pattern to catch the sea breezes for cooling. Mahogany doorways & windows and restored with period furnishing. I was very impressed. The Grounds are very nice and include the outdoor Kitchen and Gardens   They have a very nice restaurant on site where we ate and had the Rum tasting. I ordered the best Hamburger ($20) I’ve had in a while and other guests said the Seafood entrees were very good. It was a very enjoyable tour (check the two links). We were also lucky to be the only ship in port today so travel was easier. I was back in my cabin just before 3:00 pm for needed rest. The new Zoom internet on board is excellent. At 5:00 pm I was able to watch my Sooners Softball Team vs. UCF. I streamed both the broadcast from ESPN+ and streamed the sound from the Sooner Sports Network.  Perfect and the Sooners won 10-2. The game ended just before my 8:00 pm dinner time. It was the Caribbean Night menu, my least favorite, but service is excellent in the MDR so always a nice dinner. I ordered the Coconut Shrimp and two entrees: the jerk Pork Chop and NY Strip Steak. For dessert the Pineapple Sunshine Cake. The Shrimp and Cake were excellent, the entrees not so much. I stopped at the R Bar in the Centrum for a cocktail and to pick up some Diet Coke for the cabin before retiring. It was a long but great day on the Grandeur of the Seas.
Day Four -- Saturday --  April 27th, 2024 -- Cozumel, Mexico
Smooth seas continued and I slept well. I woke in the night and updated this blog…too busy yesterday.  We have a late arrival into Cozumel so no rushing this morning.  I did go to the MDR for breakfast.  I had Danish, Fruit Plate, Eggs Benedict, Hash Browns, Bacon, and a glass of milk.  It was very good and I had a view of us sailing into the Strait of Cozumel. I had time to do some catch-up business online as we aren’t scheduled to dock until noon. At about 11:30 I went down to deck 2 as I anticipated an earlier gangway opening and yes they did, I was the first guest off the ship primarily because everyone in front of me didn’t have their sail cards ready. That was a first. I did the 15-minute walk over to Del Mar Latino Beach Club and settled into a lounge area. It was a beautiful day with enough clouds to cover the Sun most of the day and a nice sea breeze. I started with Coca-Cola and a dip in the pool to cool off from the walk. I monitored the OU softball game (ESPN+ doesn’t cover Mexico) and eventually switched to Mojitos. Jazzy kept the drinks coming as well as great snacks including: Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Chicken Nachos, Coconut Shrimp, Shrimp Cocktail, and Coconut Ice Creme. I casually walked back to the International Pier at about 5:00ish.  We don’t sail until 8:00 pm so not as busy a return to ship. After refreshing and rest I went to the R Bar for a frozen drink called a MasterCard. I had another as I watched Karaoke with a live band…interesting. I went to the MDR for dinner and it’s a Touch of Mexico theme tonight. I ordered the Escargot, Poblano Pepper Soup, Carne Asada, a Pulled Pork Enchilada, and a Flan for dessert. It was good, but a bit disappointing as I like proper Mexican food. I retired after dinner, I heard the Production Shows have been good, but just are appealing to me on this cruise. It was a great day in Cozumel today.
Day Five -- Sunday --  April 28, 2024 —Fun Day at Sea 
Some rolling seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our clocks forward one hour so back to Florida time. At about 9:20 am I went down to the MDR for another nice breakfast. Danish, Tomato Juice, Fruit Plate, Eggs Benedict, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Hot Milk. My televised softball game is early today with an 11:00 am start for OU and USF. Again great Voom WiFi on the ship and the Sooners won. I went up to the Windjammer for a nice lunch and noticed the ship rocking…then later that we sailed into some rainy weather. I made a trip to Guest Services then stayed in the Centrum to listen to the 5-piece Jazz Group. I had my Mastercard frozen drink then stayed for the Parade of Countries with Crew parading with flags from around the world. It was interesting and they seemed to have the world covered. At 7:15 pm I went to the Theater for the Farewell Show. It featured the 8-piece Orchestra (unique these days), the Magician, the featured Comedian, the Singers (4), and Dancers (8) with a farewell set, and various members of the Senior Staff and Crew. Since I had not seen a show I was able to catch them all at this one…Glad that I attended. That made me a little late for dinner, But I was the only one tonight so all fine.  It’s Italian theme night and I ordered: the Italian Minestrone Soup, Crispy Parmesan Arancini, Chicken Parmesan entree with extra Marinara, and the Artisan Cheese Plate for dessert.  It was good. After dinner, I retired to begin packing for tomorrow's departure.

Debarkation — Thursday -- April 29, 2024 -- Port of Tampa
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke by 6:00 am to finish packing.  Debark began at 7:05 am and I was among the first off.  Facial recognition but only two stations.  Walked across the street to the parking garage and home by 8:30 am.  Easy.

HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruises
Pedro St. James Great House and Cayman Crystal Caves Excursion
Cozumel Port Day
Friendly Staff and Crew
Farewell Show
Cabin location

Observations about the Grandeur of the Seas
Smaller ship is easier to maneuver
Crew and Staff are excellent & Friendly
Rarely a long wait for elevators
Not many FOOD options